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November 28, 2012

Wezen-Ball

The SPBA's Short Life

by Larry Granillo

In the winter of 1989, a new league played its inaugural games. Formed by Jim Morley, a 33-year-old real estate developer and a group of like-minded owners who "[would] spend in the neighborhood of $1 million the first year", the Senior Professional Baseball Association started play in eight Florida towns for a 72-game season between November and February. Players, who earned no more than $15,000 a month (with an average of $7,000), were required to be 35 years old or older (catchers could be as young as 32). Some famous names, including Vida Blue, Ferguson Jenkins, Rollie Fingers, Amos Otis, Luis Tiant, and Dave Kingman, suited up in the inaugural season. Curt Flood took on the role of commissioner, while Dock Ellis, Dick Williams, Bobby Bonds, and Earl Weaver all joined up as coaches or managers.

The league had a tough time gaining a foothold that winter. This was partly because the league began play in November, a "time of year when tourists are out of season in Florida." According to the November 20, 1989, issue of Sports Illustrated, the league needed to average 2,000 fans a game to break even. At that time, the average was barely half that at 1,113.

A week later, David Letterman made the league the focus of his Top Ten List.

Top 10 things overheard at a senior league baseball game

10. "Is that a signal or is he adjusting his truss?"
9. "A correction for you home viewers... that was not in Slo-Mo."
8. "Are those pinstripes or varicose veins?"
7. "Wow! The wind really got under that hairpiece!"
6. "That's not Morgana! That's Bea Arthur!"
5. "I bet he does live through the game, Mr. Rose."
4. "You wanna wake the guy in the on-deck circle?"
3. "Hey batter! Hey batter!... Uh, I forgot what I was going to say."
2. "Oatmeal! Get your nice hot oatmeal!"
1. "Have you ever smelled so much Ben-Gay?"

The Senior Professional Baseball Association did not survive long. By the time its second season began in November 1990, big changes had already occurred: four teams folded, one team relocated, and two other teams (one in California and one in Arizona) were added, while the minimum age was dropped to 34 and the length of the season was shortened to 56 games. The league folded in December, shortly before the halfway point of the season when the Fort Myers franchise told its players not to report. Morley, the league's founder who took the league from an idea dreamed up on the Australian coast to creation in only 10 months, said "his brainchild was probably rushed into existence." There were hopes that the SPBA would turn into the next Senior PGA, a league that was enjoying its heyday at the time with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Arnold Palmer. Instead, it joined the long list of failed leagues in near-record time.

5 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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jj0501

Did any of the stats survive ? Did any of the members make their way back to organized ball ? I'd forgotten all about the league, so I guess I'd be a perfect fan for them.

Nov 28, 2012 05:04 AM
rating: 3
 
kmbart

Did anyone keep the stats? Well, at least five people did - four of my buddies and I had a Roto league for the SPBA. (Really.) And it finished in a first-place tie! Desperate doesn't even begin to describe how badly we missed Roto after our inaugural season in '89; we compiled stats from the USA Today weekly numbers using a pre-EXCEL spreadsheet.

Nov 28, 2012 17:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Michael
(736)

That Top Ten list is still pretty funny.

Nov 28, 2012 09:28 AM
rating: 0
 
cubfan131

Even better they even had their own baseball cards.

http://www.checkoutmycards.com/Cards/Baseball/1989-90_Pacific_Senior_League

Nov 28, 2012 10:53 AM
rating: 0
 
s8n666

Wow, this brings me back. I purchased a few packs of cards. Also, during my family's annual vacation to Florida, my father and I took a drive from Hollywood to somewhere (Fort Myers? Palm Beach, I don't remember) to catch a game. I remember seeing Rollie Fingers come on in relief and remember chasing him with a few other kids trying to get an autograph. I know it will sound terrible, but my only other memory of the game was that my father and I sat next to someone with a severly deformed head. Being 9 years old, I spent most of the game looking at the poor guys deformity. Per Wikipedia, At least five of the circuit's players (Ron Washington, Joaquín Andújar, Paul Mirabella, Danny Boone, and Ozzie Virgil, Jr.) signed major league contracts after playing in the Senior League, and at least three (Mirabella, Boone, and Virgil) played in the big leagues after their Senior League appearances.

Nov 28, 2012 11:30 AM
rating: 0
 
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Skewed Left: Year of t... (11/27)
<< Previous Column
Wezen-Ball: Indexing t... (11/26)
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Wezen-Ball: 37 Candida... (12/04)
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